The robustness of our ancient knowledge systems was determined by well-defined research methods. In this, Tantrayukti played a pivotal role. It was a powerful methodological device and the means to interpret science. Theoreticians and practitioners of yore from various branches of study such as Statecraft, Economics, Medicine, Philosophy and Grammar, to name a few, were deeply influenced by it. This is revealed in the specific methodological devices from Tantrayukti chosen by Charakha, Sushruta, Kautilya, Vagbhata, Panini and others to create and structure their treatises. These celebrated expositions have withstood the test of time, which lends credence to the rigour of Tantrayukti tools. However, are they of any significance to present day scholarly works and publications?
This article’s aim is to posit the definite, extant relevance of Tantrayukti, by considering few of its tools from our ancient methodological system. Out of the thirty-two and thirty-six Tantrayukti tools clearly delineated by Aachaaryas Sushruta, Kautilya and Charakha respectively, eleven of them will be examined. The manner of doing so will be by identifying the use of these tools in a published research paper of present times. This is Connecting the ‘bottom of the pyramid’ – An Exploratory Case Study of India’s Rural Communication Environment, by Sarita Seshagiri, Aman Sagar and Dhaval Joshi. It was published in conference proceedings WWW 2007, May 8-12, Banff, Canada. Henceforth, the paper will be referred to as CBoP. A softcopy of the paper was accessed from https://dl.acm.org/doi/10.1145/1242572.1242688
Ideally, the discussion should be in terms of many such published works. Perhaps it could be an in-depth research endeavour for the near future. Yet, why was this particular publication chosen? Firstly, the paper was published as the result of a structured, exploratory study that was qualitative in nature. Tantrayukti tools are said to work best for qualitative and exploratory study, where the phenomenon in question needs identification, scrutiny, definition and interpretation.
Secondly, the study was undertaken by an interdisciplinary team, with members hailing from Social Sciences, to User Experience, Interaction Design and Computer Engineering, which means there were academics as well as field researchers, along with product developers and coders. The reputed proponents of Tantrayukti, such as Kautilya have indicated that its research tools are best used by scholars, who are both theoreticians and practitioners.
Thirdly, the study was driven by research questions whose answers were not obvious unless an in-depth study was conducted, and this is what Charakha has repeatedly opined through his research methods. In CBoP, a critical research question was frequency of undertaking communication by people in a remote village with their neighbouring villages. Given the limited reach of mobile phones in rural areas (at the time when this study was conducted), one of the explanations was that communication between villages was probably less. Yet, field immersion showed that inter-village social interactionwas fairly regular. Another research question was regarding mobile phone access. Given low mobile ownership, pooraccess was almost a certainty. Yet it was found upon closer observation that almost everyone accessed mobile phones. Hence, study findings proved to be both unexpected and counterintuitive.
Finally, this paper was the result of one of the earliest studies by a young and motivated research team, which was eager to scrutinize the reality of mobile telephony in rural India. This maps right into Tantrayukti’s fundamental tenet, i.e., to seek truth in this world. It is a quest aimed at understanding facts which determine phenomena.
CBoP was a field-immersive, primary study of a Southern Indian village, in the Chamarajanagar district of Karnataka. It was an effort led by the user-experience and user research team of a well-known mobile company’s R&D department. The objective was to explore rural communication environment and communication preferences of rural residents. This was done by examining people’s everyday lifestyle, working conditions and the communication ecosystem surrounding them.
The first Tantrayukti device, which is perhaps the trigger for any research effort is Samshaya or doubt. A study should bring out doubts and tries to answer them logically and convincingly, much like detoxifying a disease as Lele suggests. In the paper, research questions or Samshaya were many, as seen in the image below. Some of them were – who villagers communicated with and what challenges were faced whilst communicating.
The second Tantrayukti device considered in this article is Anumata or agreement. It was used by our ancient scholars to quote previous works and aachaaryas to show how and where they concurred with their position. A research effort gains rigour by citing previous academic works and researchers. Anumata has been used by authors of CBoP as the means to justify their research endeavour.
For instance, as seen in the image, one of the scholars in the field of development studies called Keniston is quoted to highlight that user needs cannot be understood without conducting empirical studies. Similarly, Baijal is quoted to show that rural ICT needs have to be understood for better development. Scholars such as Bhatnagar mention specific ICT solutions for rural areas such as internet kiosks, voice e-mails in local language and so on. Other scholars are quoted to show that rural infrastructure requires exploration. Authors of CBoP concur with these views of previous scholars in the literature-review section and posit that their research explores these very themes.
Apadesha is another device used in CBoP under the literature review section. But there is a slight difference in the manner of using it. Anumata includes quoting of previous scholarly work to justify the study and has been used towards the beginning. However, Apadesha has been used in the later part of the article as the means to position study findings against that of previous works.
Claims of scholars in the field of ICTD have been cited only to refute whatthe present authors found in their study. For instance, Pohjola states that people’s acceptance of technology will rise if their education levels are increased in the first place. The authors of CBoP refute this assertion by putting forth their inference from study findings that technology should address socio-economic needs before anything else. Secondly, scholars such as Pentland, Hasson and others in their study claim that economic challenges / cost cutting determines resource-sharing occurs in rural communities. This is challenged by the authors of the article, who posit through their findings that group dynamics rather than economic challenges influenced sharing of resources such as mobile phones, television-sets and other assets.
The central Tantrayukti for thesis creation in any research is Hethavartha. It posits the cause or the root which gives rise to a phenomenon. Kautilya has unequivocally established in his treatise, the primacy of arthaa (wealth / wealth creation) over other Purushaarthas of life.
In the case of CBoP, the researchers have identified the cause that triggers inter-village communication to be information exchange events for specific purposes (medical issues, money / debt, marriage, birth, death, exam results, selling/purchasing from wholesale market and so on) than casual calls.
Having done due diligence, it is important for scholars to state findings in an unequivocal manner. This is done with the help of Ekanta Tantrayukti or ‘Universal Rule’. By using this tool, scholars can assert certain aspects of a phenomenon stating there are no exceptions to it.
The Ekanta stated by the authors here is that ‘context’ will always influence communication. They assert that content, purpose and frequency of communication events will always be determined by users’ contextual factors, irrespective of the kind of communication event.
Having undertaken in-depth studies, researchers are in a position to now lay forth instructions that must be followed in a certain way. This is done with Niyoga Tantrayukti – the tool for command or injunction.
Towards the end of the article, authors put forth guidelines for policy makers to undertake information and communication technology (ICT) deployment. The first is that any ICT solution should complement traditional or extant information media that users are already accustomed to and should not supplant them. Secondly, these solutions should be deployed incrementally for users to familiarize themselves with the new system and thereby adopt it.
Another Tantrayukti like Niyoga is Upadesha. However, Upadesha is less of a command and more of an advice. In CBoP, the Upadesha can be identified towards the end of their article like the Niyoga, because the study findings have already been analysed and discussed, paving the way for recommendations for policy makers and other stakeholders.
In the article, there are two instances of what can be identified as Upadesha. The first is obvious. The authors suggest that adapting to any ICT solution for rural India is easier if the solution considers people’s lifestyle and environmental factors. The second instance is right after the first. The authors point out that any rural-ICT solution should be conscious of socio- cultural dynamics in resource sharing. However, it could also be Niyoga since the tone is that of a directive, where the focus is on how ICT solutions ought to be and clarifies the same.
All research seeks to delve into some aspect of the physical world. It is the innate nature of phenomena in the physical world to have exceptions. The true calibre of scholars and the completeness of their work is tested when they are aware of such exceptions to the rule and highlight the same. Upavarga is the Tantrayukti device that helps bring forth the exception.
The writers of CBoP showcase this exception when they discuss their findings in the context of resource-sharing among rural communities. Although sharing does occur, it is not extended to individuals, who are not members of the core group that is sharing their assets.
A common occurrence in research is encountering multiple concepts to a phenomenon, or multiple approaches to a finding or even research question. If scholars showcase their study in the form of disparate, multiple concepts in any of these areas, it becomes difficult for readers to comprehend. This in turn engenders low acceptance of that research. The Samucchaya Tantrayukti is used to combine homogenous concepts of the study and state it together. Doing so posits a scholar’s understanding of the pattern that underlies the multiplicity. It also enables brevity in writing and presenting of a study.
Authors of CBoP have combined various attributes of ICT solutions as quoted by previous scholars. It is done under literature review, where study findings are compared with earlier research studies and thus presented to the readers. Through Samucchaya the multiple traits of technology solutions are listed as affordable, local and easy to use. In a manner of speaking, this could also be part of Anumata and Vikalpa, because previous literature is quoted and then placed alongside the authors’ observations.
It is also likely for there to be multiplicity in the very occurrence or nature of a phenomenon being studied. A researcher, who has gathered data and observed a phenomenon in diverse set of conditions can point out to the ambivalent nature of its occurrence. Doing so, shows a researcher’s diligence and their success in observing / gathering data. The Tantrayukti device that is used to posit several options in occurrence and ambivalence of event is called Vikalpa.
The CBoP authors have highlighted in the section under study findings that the content of rural communication was primarily social in nature. But they have also brought out the rule of optionality by showing that communication was varied. Although it was predominantly social, there were also instances of economic and educational communication events. With this, the authors have also shown the frequency of an economic communication versus educational and social.
The final Tantrayukti considered here is Oohya or rules for context conscious interpretation of data / information surrounding a phenomenon. When data is analysed or an observation is made during a study, it is interpreted in the specific context of its occurrence. To do this, the Oohya Tantrayukti is applied. Researchers must depend on both their experience and knowledge to interpret data. Oohya is specifically for those, who are well versed and skilled in their area of expertise. Kautilya thereby implies that it is for those, who are both theoreticians and practitioners.
Towards the end of CBoP paper, i.e. under conclusion, the researchers ask for context conscious adoption of their study findings, which is very similar to Oohya Tantrayukti. ‘Context’ here is in terms of other villages in India with similar socio-economic and demographic profiles. The authors suggest conditional extrapolation, which means that learnings from this study and its application depends on wisdom of the audience.
Although the writers of CBoP were not aware of the Tantrayukti devices, nor were they trained in the Indic perspective of our knowledge systems, they have unintentionally used some of its methods. This shows the universal applicability and relevance of our traditional systems of scientific inquiry. One can only imagine how much more rigorous our present-day research ecosystem would be, if our mainstream scholars were trained in the research methodologies of our indigenous systems. Perhaps it could even help mitigate some of the problems our academics and students face today in research ethics.